I couldn't resist adding something else to it! Hope you like it.
"Arthur!" There was only one time Merlin knew he could barge into the prince's chambers in such a way. Fortunately for him, Arthur knew that too. Rather than waiting to ask what had his servant running around like all of the guards were on his heels, Arthur jumped to his feet and snatched up his sword. Merlin grasped at the stitch in his side, panting for breath.
"Eastern corridors. Your father's guests… they've cornered someone."
Arthur needed no more than that and strode from the room. Merlin made to follow him, only to find the prince's hand caught his chest and pushed him back. When Merlin looked confused, Arthur just gave him a soft nod and disappeared before the warlock could even find the breath to say anything more. Knowing he would never catch up, Merlin just sank down into one of Arthur's chairs and tried to catch his breath.
Everyone had noticed how much the castle had changed over the last few months. Corridors were safe again and the servants had gradually begun to let down their defences now they knew they could walk around unchallenged. Merlin hadn't realised how bad the tension had been until it was now gone. He had entered Camelot while things were bad; he just thought that had been the norm. But now people were free and happy once again, he realised security had just been lax during his arrival and those who cared enough to make a change didn't know it was happening. Namely: Arthur.
Finally beginning to get his breathing back under control, Merlin glanced around the room for something to do. He had been here six months now and Arthur had given up trying to make him do as he was told. Generally, the jobs did get done. It just tended to be in Merlin's own time rather than when Arthur requested it. Merlin didn't think he could be blamed; the rest of the time he was either fetching life-saving herbs for Gaius or actually saving Arthur's life using the forbidden magic – so it wasn't as if he could tell Arthur.
But on the days when he sent the prince running to someone's rescue, Merlin always felt a rush of respect so strong that he felt the urge to be a proper servant and actually get something achieved. Arthur might be a pig-headed prat for most of the time, but Merlin had been given a glimpse at his heart and knew he was a good man, even if he didn't want to show it. Moments like these showed Merlin what sort of king Arthur would grow into and he felt a surge of pride that he was going to be partly responsible for making it happen.
Realising he had actually done some work the day before and so there was not that much that needed doing, Merlin rose to his feet and twisted, pleased when his side had stopped twinging at him. He thought he had done more running around since living in a castle than he had done during his whole time of living out in the countryside where nothing was within reach.
Moving across the room, it didn't take him long to start folding back the sheets on the bed and plumping the pillows, determined to do it properly for once. He had just placed the final cushions back into the proper place when the door opened and Arthur returned. He threw his sword down onto the table in disgust, a look of fury on his face.
"Everything alright?" Merlin asked quietly, his heart thudding hard. Arthur usually looked pleased when he returned, knowing he had helped. Scowling, the prince threw himself into his chair, slouching in a way that was decidedly unprincely.
"She is with Gaius," he muttered and Merlin felt his heart sink. Arthur might have got there and stopped things from escalating, but it had still taken too long. Someone had been hurt and Merlin knew how much the prince took that personally.
"I'm sorry, if I had got here quicker…"
"Don't, Merlin. It's not your fault, you came as fast as you could. It's their fault. Thinking that just because they are guests of the king they had the right to do whatever they want…" Arthur seemed to be preparing to work himself into a rant. Merlin moved across the room and fleetingly let his hand rest on Arthur's shoulder. It happened too fast for the prince to make a comment on it.
"It's not your fault either, Arthur. You did what you could," he murmured softly. He knew it wasn't only anger at the guests that had Arthur worked up; he hadn't got there fast enough, someone had been hurt and now he was blaming himself.
"It's not enough," Arthur snapped, pushing his chair back and standing up. Merlin only just moved in time to avoid being hit. As the prince stepped towards the door, Merlin frowned.
"Where are you going now?"
"None of your business," Arthur retorted, stalking from the room. Merlin sighed, running a hand through his hair as he watched the door swing shut after his master. He hoped his suspicions about Arthur's destination were correct. Only a fierce training session with the knights would be enough to work off his frustration. It would be better for everyone if Arthur was in a good mood by the time he had to dine with the king and his guests that evening.
For a long moment, Merlin could only stand there, his mind racing. What would it take for Arthur to see the improvements that had already been made? Merlin knew he wasn't the only one to have noticed how happy people now were, but the prince only seemed to see the moments of weakness where his regime failed. He didn't notice how servants and knights were now on name-to-name terms, how servants would often be singing or whistling to themselves as they attended their duties. He only saw the rare occasions were fear flourished again. But Arthur only ever saw the fear.
Shaking his head, Merlin knew there wasn't much point in staying in the room for now. There was nothing to be done; he was better finding something useful to do with his time. He knew the sort of jobs Arthur would often ask of him, so rather than wait until other important things – normally saving Arthur's life – also dictated his time, the warlock figured he should get on with some of them now.
Shutting the door carefully behind him, Merlin nodded at the guards stationed there and set off towards the armoury. The majority of Arthur's weapons and armour was kept in his room – if needed in a hurry it wasted too much time Merlin having to go and fetch it. But his crossbow and less familiar weapons remained with everything else and Merlin knew it had been a while since he had polished them. As much as he moaned about it, he didn't mind. For one thing, keeping the weapons in good condition made his job of keeping Arthur alive a lot easier. But it also allowed his mind to wander now his hands knew what he was doing and the servant found it relaxing.
This time, however, fate didn't want him to have the chance to relax.
He hadn't made it even halfway when a prickling on the back of his neck made him slow. The footsteps he had been hearing also slowed and Merlin knew he was being followed. Being the Crown Prince's servant offered him some protection – no one was foolish enough to annoy Arthur – but he still upped his pace again. It came as no surprise when the footsteps also did the same.
Merlin was so busy focusing on what he was hearing he forgot to look where he was going. Instead, he had been staring at his own feet as he tried to listen to his pursuer. He almost crashed into the figure that suddenly stepped in front of him. Preparing to apologise – he had learn the hard way sometimes it was just easier to shelve his pride – Merlin glanced up.
Then promptly groaned.
It was one of the King's guests, the same man who had been hounding one of the maids. Ethan, if Merlin wasn't mistaken. Glancing over his shoulder, it came as no surprise to see it had been Edgar – his twin brother – who had been stalking Merlin down the corridor. Merlin felt his heart give an uncomfortable thud. He didn't need that to tell him he was in trouble; magic was already prickling under his skin in order to come to his defence. He couldn't let it though; he couldn't give these men anything to hold over him.
"Can I help you with something, Sir?" Merlin murmured, dropping his gaze again. He hated playing the dutiful servant, but he wasn't going to let it be anything he did that dictated their next actions. Somehow, he knew where this was going and knew, no matter what, it wasn't going to end well with him.
"We saw you earlier, didn't we, boy?" Edgar said softly, coming up behind him. Merlin made to turn, only for the lord's hand to slap him sharply, jolting his head back around the other way. Merlin gritted his teeth. Knowing this was coming didn't make it any easier to bear. Especially not when he knew he had the means to defend himself. But with it being two against one, he knew it was too dangerous. All it would take would be for one of them to get a glimpse of his golden eyes and his head would be on the block before he could explain.
"You're right," Ethan continued, his hand coming up. Initially, he grabbed Merlin's chin, forcing the servant to look at him. Merlin didn't just look; he glared. But then the lord's hand slipped, caressing his throat instead. He didn't constrict his fist, but Merlin knew he was thinking about it.
"He must have been the one to go and get the prince. We've found ourselves a little snitch."
Merlin didn't even see the movement coming until he had been jerked to one side. Too late did he realise they had stopped by some empty rooms and while Ethan shoved him harshly away, forcing Merlin to fall, Edgar shut the door carefully behind them.
"You made us lose favour with the prince, boy."
"You did that yourself," Merlin spat, sitting up and rubbing a banged elbow. He might not be able to use magic, but that didn't mean he was going to take whatever they threw at him just because he was a servant. He just started to get his feet under him when Edgar shoved him harshly in the back. His balance lost, Merlin fell again and didn't even have time to see Ethan's kick coming. It caught him straight in the stomach and Merlin gasped, the air driven from him as he instinctively curled into a ball to protect his midriff.
Not that it made any difference. They blamed him for their loss of favour and with no one else around to stop them, they were determined to make him pay. Merlin began to rethink the idea about magic, knowing he was going to be lucky they didn't kill him at this rate. Whatever it took, he had to survive. But just as he began thinking about what he could actually do that wouldn't be too obvious, a heel caught him in the head. Merlin didn't even know whose it was, but his vision instantly began weaving. He couldn't focus, couldn't think of anything let alone magic.
Darkness was clawing at his vision as the blows continued to rain down. As he felt blood gushing from his nose, Merlin knew it was over. They backed off and he tried to raise himself on shaky arms. But their cruel laughter rang in his ears as he had no choice but to slump back down again, the last of his consciousness fleeing his mind.
Darkness claimed him and Merlin's final thought was they would kill him while he was out cold.
Which was why he was very surprised to feel pain pulsing through every inch of his body as his eyes screwed up and slowly began to peel themselves open. He was sure dying wasn't supposed to hurt this much.
"Gaius! Gaius, he's waking up."
Merlin was also sure that should he actually die, Arthur's voice would not be the first thing that greeted him, especially as the loudness caused stabbing pains to drive into his skull. Merlin groaned and there was instantly a hand on his forehead.
"Merlin? Can you hear me?" Knowing Gaius wanted the truth, Merlin groaned again. His tongue felt heavy and thick in his mouth, he wasn't sure he could form a word if he wanted to. Luckily, his mentor seemed to understand and a cup was pressed against the warlock's lips. Merlin drank eagerly, sighing as it helped soothe his mouth.
"Wh'm I?" He slurred, forcing his eyes to open properly this time. As soon as he glanced around, he didn't need anyone to answer that question. He was in Arthur's rooms. On the prince's bed, with Arthur sitting to one side looking concerned and Gaius hovering over him. Not understanding why he was being allowed to just lie here, Merlin made to rise. Gaius instantly moved his hand to his shoulder and firmly pressed him back down again.
"Don't," his voice was kind but his eyes were concerned.
"Why?" Merlin asked with a shaky voice.
"You're badly hurt, you need to rest." Merlin knew what Gaius wasn't saying. He wasn't letting him stand because he knew he wouldn't be able to. Lying back against the pillows, Merlin exhaled sharply a then had to bite his lip to stop tears springing to his eyes at just over how much that had hurt. His mentor squeezed his shoulder.
"I'll fetch you something for the pain. Don't try and get up, Merlin. I mean it, you'll regret it." If he was honest, Merlin wasn't sure he had the strength to try again even if he wanted to. He watched mutely as Gaius turned and left, deciding he hated this feeling of being so helpless. He should have used magic to defend himself and taken the consequences as they came. But then the rational part of his brain kicked in; being killed was still worse than being in pain.
"I'm sorry," Arthur murmured. Merlin jumped; for a wild moment he had forgotten the prince was there despite it being his rooms.
"How did you find me?" Merlin asked, glad his voice was coming out stronger. It was worse being seen as weak in front of Arthur. To his surprise, Arthur smiled.
"Some maid that I have never seen before came to get me."
Merlin only stared, wondering what Arthur was looking so happy about. The prince noticed his look and continued, inching closer as he did so.
"It means it's working," he continued. "Maybe I can't stop all the attacks from taking place. But I thought it was just the two of us against the whole castle."
Merlin had to fight in order to keep the smile off his face at the causal way that Arthur said that. He knew the other servants were now more willing to approach a knight for help, but Arthur hadn't been seeing that.
"I thought if you didn't see it, then I would never find out about it. I was in the middle of the training field, surrounded by knights and she just came running straight up to tell me. I think she said she saw them throw you into the room."
"That's… good." Merlin meant it. If him being beaten was what it took for Arthur to see he was making a difference, then Merlin knew he would go through it again. Although perhaps not for a few days, he was a little sore right now.
"But I do need to apologise. If I hadn't stopped them earlier…"
"They just would have hurt someone else, Arthur. They came after me because they were denied their fun. They wanted to hurt someone and both times you stopped them."
"Maybe," Arthur muttered, his smile gone. Merlin knew they still had a little way to go before Arthur accepted just what difference he had made. At least this was a starting point though; the prince understood that a change was taking place.
"Where…" Merlin shifted, avoiding Arthur's gaze as he did so. He didn't want to see the pity in the man's expression over how hard moving was right now.
"Where are they?"
"In the dungeons."
"How did you get away with that?" The trouble up until now was that Uther would never punish a noble over a servant. Arthur smirked.
"An attack on you, as my personal manservant, is a direct attack on me. I persuaded my father they were seeking to undermine my authority and show me for a weak leader not able to protect my own servants. He saw my point of view."
Merlin shook his head, slumping back into the pillows in amazement. This wasn't just about sending out a message that the staff were protected – although it certainly did that as well. Arthur had done that - reminded everyone of his status and authority – for Merlin. He had taken this personally not because Merlin was his servant, but because he was a friend.
"Thank you." There was nothing else to say and Arthur shifted uncomfortably. He never liked emotional talks.
"Get some rest," he murmured, standing up and moving across the room. "I want you back at work tomorrow."
"Of course, Sire," Merlin responded, settling down against the pillows. Normally, he would be complaining. But there was something rather soft about Arthur's bed and he wasn't sure when he would next get the chance. As he drifted off to sleep, Merlin couldn't help reflect what a good king his master would one day be.